Reuniting separated families: Why is it taking so long?

Trump admin releases names of children under 5 separated at border

Almost 3,000 kids were separated from their parents as a result of the White House's zero tolerance immigration policy, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar estimated last week.The government has not said how many of them were reunited with their parents, and officials have asked for more time to meet one of the reunification deadlines. After reunification, they face a series of other obstacles - including long, complex legal proceedings, and possibly deportation.

The New York Times reported late last week that, under pressure to reunite the families, authorities were struggling to connect them after records linking children to their parents disappeared and in some cases were destroyed, though not as part of a deliberate attempt to obfuscate. Some families are only partially reunified; a child may be returned to his mother, for instance, while his father remains in detention. "This is real progress and I'm optimistic that many of these families will be reunited tomorrow, and then we'll have a very clear understanding as to who has not been reunited, why not, and what time-frame will be in place". The Legal Aid Society in NY said it is representing at least two separated children under five years old that meet the judge's criteria for reunification on Tuesday.

Gelernt, the ACLU lawyer, said in court that the government had taken "significant steps" to reunite families but should be moving more quickly.

But Gelernt took issue with the administration's "continued insistence on using the longer reunification process" - procedures HHS uses for children who arrive to the U.S. alone.

Some families will miss the deadline.

"They will be assessed for reunification after they are released from criminal custody, provided that Defendants are made aware of that release", lawyers added.

Still, at a court hearing on Monday, the federal judge who set the deadline for reunifications said he was "very encouraged" thus far.

According to the court filing, four children have already been reunited with parents. The Trump administration was working on final background checks for another five children ahead of Tuesday's (Wednesday NZT) deadline. In the other half, he said the parents weren't available to be reunited with their kids - in several cases because the parents were still in jail or U.S. Marshal Service custody.

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The hearing also barely touched on the more than 2,000 children still in government custody who will need to be reunited in coming weeks.

In court in San Diego, Sabraw said DNA tests to determine if a child belongs to a family aren't necessary if family members have other documentation, such as a birth certificate.

On June 26, Sabraw, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, set the deadlines of Tuesday to reunite children under 5 with their families and July 26 for the rest of the children.

As NPR's John Burnett explained Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services says it has hired 250 additional personnel in the sprint to comply with the court order. Azar said for another 16 of the 102 migrants under five, the children weren't being reunited because the parents were found to either be "demonstrably unfit" or not to be the parents of the child in question. Fabian said these families will not remain in detention once they are reunited.

The filing noted 13 others now deemed ineligible for reunification, for reasons ranging from parents now in the custody of other criminal justice agencies to a parent who is being treated for a communicable disease, and one who lives in a home with another adult who has a criminal background.

In ordering an end to the separation of families, the president said they should instead be detained together.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt sought assurances from the government on Monday (Tuesday NZT) that advocates would be in position to guide parents when they are released in a foreign land.

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